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US Court Ruling on Corporate Campaign Spending Draws Concern

  • Peter Fedynsky

Two years ago this month [January 21], the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government may not limit spending by corporations on political campaigns. The majority in the narrow 5-4 decision, known as "Citizens United," said such limits would violate corporations' right to free speech - essentially treating corporate speech the same as that of individual human beings. There is growing concern that well-funded corporations may drown out the individual.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has the distinction of both supporting the "Citizens United" decision and being a victim of it.

Female Voice: “Ever notice how some people make a lot of mistakes?”

Newt Gingrich: “It was probably a mistake.”

This so-called "attack ad" was part of a multi-million-dollar negative campaign against Gingrich before the recent Iowa caucuses. It was funded by anonymous corporate donors who favor Mitt Romney for president.

The corporate attack ads are widely credited with helping pull Gingrich down from front-runner to fourth in the recent Iowa Caucuses.

The New York City Council is the latest American city to adopt a resolution calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution - to declare that corporations are not entitled to the same rights as people, and that money is not a constitutionally-protected form of speech. Other cities to do so include Los Angeles, California; Albany, New York; Boulder, Colorado and South Miami, Florida.

Jonah Minkoff-Zern represents Public Citizen, a non-profit organization that favors public campaign financing instead of allowing outside contributions.

“Our vote doesn’t matter the same way that someone who has so many resources to devote to a campaign, whether it’s a wealthy individual or a mega-corporation,” said Minkoff-Zern.

Republican Councilman Eric Ulrich, a Romney supporter, voted against the New York resolution.

“Because it’s just as important, even if you don’t agree with it, as the influence labor organizations and other groups may have. You have to create an equal playing field and zeroing out one group simply because we don’t agree with them just to help another - that’s not fair, that’s not American,” said Ulrich.

Ulrich mentioned newspapers and religious groups as collective organizations that also can influence elections.

The Supreme Court decision was based on a case filed against a group called Citizens United, which used corporate funds to produce a film attacking 2008 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.



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